Waterway's Royal Mail Stamps 1993

Decoration has long been part of the boating scene and that has helped keep canal boating in particular in the public's eye. The other day whilst tidying up some long since overlooked stuff I found some packs of first-day covers. As I moved the pile into another container one fell on the floor and it just happened to be a commemorative set from 1993 celebrating 200 years of canals.

The design of the stamps was down to the well-known author, artist and designer Tony Lewery whose books Flowers Afloat and Narrow Boat Painting are probably the best texts ever written on canal art.

On the back of the pack are details of their production and size etc. and some historic and "modern" images that include Cosgrove which is local to us. The pack even includes a post card invitation from British Waterways to enter a competition (very easy) to win a boating holiday; that helped firmly date the pack because the closing date was the  end of August 1993.

I will keep the twenty-three year-old pack in a safe place. Mind you that can be dangerous because I often forget where my safe places are.

Albert's Coal Box

Solid fuel heating on board means lots of ancillary equipment. Most of the coal for our stove (Brunel 1A) is stored in bags under the seats in the well deck but we keep a daily supply in a copper coal scuttle beside the fire, The lighting materials (fire lighters and kindling etc.) are stored under the step in the cabin. We also have an ash tin and various brushes for cleaning out the stove and an Eco Fan to help distribute heat. Along with a pan to roast chestnuts, a stove temperature gauge, a pair of tongs, a set of bellows (decorative) and a trivet, you would have thought that we have everything we need so far as fire accessories is concerned. In a sense you would be right, but when we recently spotted a remarkable Victorian coal box in a market in Christmas Market in Berkhamsted we fell in love with it and just had to but it. The market seller was keen to explain all its other uses but we were determined it should be used as it was intended and just had to install it on Albert.

Coal box

Coal box and our stove

The box has a pair of magnificent large brass hinges and a fine brass carrying handle. It also has an integral scuttle with its own carrying handle so it can be easily refilled. The box has some wear but great patina. Maggie wonders what grand fireplaces it has served in the past. It will brighten up our evenings by the fire.

The copper coal scuttle that has served us well over the years will probably be recycled through our favorite local charity shop.

Another watercolour of Albert

A few years ago I received a wonderful watercolour of Albert crossing the Iron Trunk, by Peter Bowtell. I recently received another watercolour (well water-based felt tip pen actually), this time from a far younger artist, my 4-year old granddaughter Florence. She and her sister Amelia recently had a sleepover on Albert and in the summer had taken a trip on Albert along the London Waterways. She was obviously taken by the trips.

NB Albert by Florence Fink

It is a very good effort at capturing Albert's main features - the right cabin colour (green), the correct window style (rectangular), an engine exhaust in the right place, flowers on the roof and a swans-neck tiller at the stern. It's all very closely observed and I will treasure it.

A Published Photographer!

A few days ago, quite out of the blue, I was contacted by Waterways World wanting to use some of my photographs that appear on this site. Of course, I gave my permission.

They had seen my 2013 photographs of horse-boating on the Grand Western Canal. The Tiverton Canal Company, who operate of the few horse-drawn canal boats on the canal system, had recently lost their star horse, Taffy, and WW wanted to mark his passing with a news item - not quite an obituary. 

Taffy in action in 2013

Taffy featured on the front cover of the 2012 Country File Calendar that raised £1,234,577 for Children in Need. The news item appears in the December WW issue along with my photographs.

There is more on Taffy in the local Devon press and Horse & Hound.

Blisworth Tunnel Ghostly Video

With Halloween upon us there is a lot of spooky activity and Stoke Bruerne has joined in with ghostly trips being offered on NB Charlie. However, the most unusual Halloween-linked local event appears to be the You Tube video posted my Mike Askins who operates the Royalty Class working boat Victoria. Mike takes great videos, mostly of his own boating exploits but occasionally of others. His video channel should be regular viewing for waterways enthusiasts. I particularly enjoy watching the video he took of Fabian Hiscock and David Blagrove explaining all you need to know about handling working boats (and were afraid to ask?).

Mike's latest offering is plain brilliant! Its a video taken inside Blisworth Tunnel which features him playing Thriller (the Michael Jackson song) on a melodeon (diatonic button accordion). The Lister JP2 even joins in enhance the effects. I hope you enjoy his offering.

Home to Yardley

Yesterday, we finished our River Nene trip with a short trip down the Stoke Bruerne Flight to Yardley Gobion. We managed to pair-up at the second lock with a Alvechurch Boat that were out for a long weekend. They were helpful but our experience reinforced our hypothesis that the efficiency of a crew at locking is inversely proportional to their number, in this case seven crew.

Jules Fuels boats ready for autumn deliveries at Stoke Bruerne Bottom Lock
(motor Towcester & butty Bideford)

Our DAB/FM/AM radio had been playing up with poor erratic reception on all channels. On investigating back at Yardley Gobion I discovered the magnetic base of the DAB aerial, which had previous served for many years as an aerial for mobile phones, had corroded away and obviously reached the end of its life. When I removed it FM reception improved dramatically (separate aerial). The DAB aerial was probably making a connection to earth and upsetting the whole radio. I ordered a replacement on-line.

Must start planning my other winter boat maintenance jobs - oil change, getting small damage to cratch cover repaired, engine service and of course touching up those hull scratches caused by locking. For the first time for a while we also need to replace lost windlasses - two.

Up the Flight and a Feathered Friend

The flight in question is the Rothersthorpe Flight on the Northampton Arm. On, Friday we tackled the seventeen locks that join the River Nene to the main line of the Grand Union. We continued our journey bring back Albert to its home base at Yardley Gobion. The weather was kind with mostly sunny periods and clear skies and with only a few clouds obscuring the sun, more of which later. It was also calm which always makes tackling locks that little bit easier.

We left Northampton Marina around 9:30 and headed under South Bridge to the first of the CRT locks. Looking back large cranes were at work on the new University of Northampton Waterside campus. Maggie is fascinated by tall cranes and how the operators climb their enormous towers to "go to work".

Reedy section on the Northampton Arm

The first section of the arm, as you leave Northampton, is a bit industrial but you soon move into a wider valley of with urban fringe. Some sections of the canal above Lock 2 are reedy and two boats would have difficulty passing but its no more difficult to navigate than, say, the Aylesbury Arm and the reed makes a the it feel more rural, Around Lock 3 we saw NB Kala depart from must have been their overnight mooring. We followed them up the flight for the rest of the morning - about two locks behind.

Around Upton Mill it became a little cloudy and we were treated to one of my favourite meteorological phenomena - a sun dog. I have reported on them before so I won't go into great detail but they are rainbow-like phenomena. At one time this sun dog was actually brighter than the sun which was obscured by a particularly black cloud.

Sun dog (centre) and sun (right) near Upton Mill, Northampton

Lift bridge and Lock 13 Gates, Northampton Arm

Just after Lock 13 you pass under the M1 in a cavern. There are many places on the canal network where canals are crossed by motorways, under Spaghetti Junction on the M6 for example, but none are quite like this. It can be gloomy place in dull weather but in bright sunlight it is less intimidating.

Under the M1

We then got into "the thick" and climbed out of the valley towards Gayton Junction. 

Albert's fore-deck getting a good wash in a lock with leaky gates

We managed well with no problem until around Lock 7 when we found a low pound. However, this apart from from some bottom gates that refused to stay closed this was our only problem. We got to the top lock in time for a late lunch (2:30). 

Being the first week-end of school half term we found a number of hire-boat crews being instructed by Alvechurch staff before taking over their boats. After a clear run through the tunnel we found Stoke Bruerne reasonably quite but it soon filled up with hire-boats, It looks like they will get good weather for their holidays.

We are used to ducks begging for food around the boat, an occasionally they visit on the bank-side, but unusually when we looked out of our galley window we found a very friendly moorhen on the towpath looking right in to our cabin. 

Our visitor at Stoke Bruerne 

We of course fed him and Maggie found out that he would eat from your hand! The next morning he turned up again, this time on the water, and with some friends. I fed him some oats (porridge for breakfast) from my hand. We often feed ducks, and occasionally swans, from our hands but this was our first for a moorhen.

Our friendly moorhen on the water

On the move to Northampton

After days of no rain and falling river levels, it rained over the weekend and the news from the Environment Agency was better. We decided that Thursday (Oct 20th) was a good day to get on the move again. The levels in the White Mills Marina were slightly up on the levels we found a few days ago and we had heard that a fully laden fuel boat had come downstream. The weather was dry, although there were showers around, and there was an autumnal feel to the day.

As we left White Mills we found another boat was going upstream - a 70ft Gardner-engined boat called Kala. Together we worked the locks up to Northampton. It all went well and we had no problems with water levels up to the Washlands. At Weston Favell lock we met an Environment Agency launch going downstream - in the launch was our contact who I had been talking to over the last few days. He reassured us that today was a good day to be on the move

On the river near Cogenhoe

He was right, there was plenty of water in the shallower parts of the Northampton Washlands but when we reached the canalised section between Rush Mills and Abington Lock it was very shallow with levels down over a foot. A boat coming the over direction warned us about rocks just below the surface.

Northampton Washlands

We got to Northampton just before 3:00. Arriving at Northampton Town Lock we found it much changed from our recent journey going downstream. Contractors have been working for sometime on the new Waterside Campus of the University of Northampton. Whilst we were "away" they had installed the steel work of a new pedestrian bridge across the River Nene. It curves its way across several arms of the river from Beckets Park. My photo from the lock doesn't do the bridge justice but it might be one of the earliest since we were told it was only installed on Wednesday. What you can see is part of the steel box-section that will support the deck.

New bridge at Beckets Park (Northampton Town Lock)

Because we arrived at a reasonable hour at Northampton Marina we took a stroll into town and visited Northampton Museum which features the shoe trade. It's a fascinating museum with some amazing shoes on show. A notable exhibit is the recently donated pair of size 21 Nike trainers found in a petrol station and unclaimed. They are enormous - can't be many with shoes that size!

There were also the Addidas spikes worn by Chris Chataway when he combined with Roger Bannister and Chris Brasher to run the first under four-minute mile.

Chataway's Addidas spikes

River Nene Low Water Levels

The wide River Nene near Northampton

Its not unusual to have navigation problems on rivers because water levels are high and currents are strong. What is rare, so far as we concerned, is the situation we now find ourselves in. Unable to navigate on a river because of low water levels.

We have had a glorious weeks boating on the River Nene with dry weather. Water levels have been low, streams slow and bridge heights generous. All was going well until yesterday when we heard from the Environment Agency (EA) about the levels of water in the Northampton Washlands area. It appears that the wide broad river upstream of Weston Favell Lock had become seriously shallow and levels were still falling making life difficult for boats to get to and from Northampton. This area is part of the extensive flood relief schemes near the town that store water and reduce the risks of flooding.

Albert draws around 30 inches of water. A week ago we found it difficult going downstream across the Washlands into Weston Favell Lock, picking up lots of weed around the prop and having to negotiating our way through the shoals before we reach the flood gate just above the lock. The thought of trying this again but with water levels even lower made us concerned. The problem is that getting stuck in the broad Washlands would not be trivial and the EA informed us that they no longer have the facilities to recover any stranded boats. They advised not proceeding but as normal "it's up to you".

We have therefore called a temporary halt on our return to Yardley Gobion and are at the new White Mills Marina near Earls Barton. The staff there are very helpful and friendly and are similarly concerned about levels. It will need to rain in the River Nene catchment before we can progress further with any confidence. At the time of writing the EA haven't yet issued a navigation notice but we have heard that the Northampton Boat Club have boats "sitting on the bottom". Deciding when it is safe for us to proceed may be tricky. We will need to keep contacting the EA and hope for rain.

Boating is always an adventure.


We left our moorings at Islip and headed upstream towards Northampton. The weather was bright, and the wind lower than yesterday, but clouds and colder weather were forecast. Close to Woodford lock we saw the local hunt out complete with hounds.  As we were about to leave the lock NB Yarwood approached. We had a chat and decided not double up at the next lock because they had already agreed to share with a following crew. They did however help close the guillotine gate and gave us a useful tip - you can use a screwdriver to as a temporary handle, replacing those long since removed on spurious health and safety grounds. 

Manually-operated guillotine lock 

We haven't met many boats on the move but today at two locks we met boats going downstream. One when we unfortunately had already dropped the water, but the other luckily just as we were about to leave the lock.

As the day progressed, as predicted, the clouds rolled over and the temperature dropped. Close to Irthlingborough an aerobatic team were on a training flight, I had to be careful not to be distracted.

We moored up at the "Rushden & Diamonds" moorings again and had a late lunch. This was followed by a walk into Irthlingborough. It doesn't have the charms of Thrapston. We also had to walk past the disused Nene Valley stadium which reinforced our gloom about what used to be superb moorings. Having said that, the view across the nature reserve is attractive and there is plenty of room for boats.

Thrapston and Islip

Mooring at Kings Head
Yesterday morning, Wednesday, we left the boat on our mooring at Wadenhoe and took a stroll around the delightful and picturesque village. We also walked along a section of the Lyvden Way and visited the church. 
Wadenhoe High Street. 

Wadenhoe Post and Telegraph Office 

The Post Office in Wadenhoe claims to be the first village in England to have a telegraph because it was the country seat of the Ward Hunt family. George Ward Hunt, when First Lord of the Admiralty, needed to be in touch with government business and had it installed.

Interior of Wadenhoe Church

A rural churchyard

The church sits on top of a small hill overlooking the river and is connected to the Kings Head and the village hall by a path. Part way along the path is a large sundial on a stone plinth that records the directions to four neighbouring churches. Not for nothing is Northamptonshire known as a county of "spires and squires".

We left our Wadenhoe mooring around lunchtime and headed upstream towards home. Along the stretch to Titchmarch Lock we had a series of wildlife encounters. Unfortunately, none recorded on camera. It started with two kingfishers flying in front of the boat. Despite seeing kingfishers often when boating,this is the first time we had seen this. Judging by their subsequent flights, and the time of the year, it was an attempt to define territories. This was closely followed by the ubiquitous heron getting airborne and a red kite circling overhead. Moments later a grass snake left the bank and swam towards the bows of Albert. It then wiggled its way along the hull. 

Our overnight mooring was at Islip alongside the Middle Nene Sailing Club. The wind was, in the words we have heard forecasters use, "noticeable". These meant our time at Islip was accompanied by the rhythmic rattling of sailing dinghy halyards 

Islip (Thrapston) Visitor Moorings

We spent part of the afternoon wandering around Thrapston which is close to the moorings. This market town still has a agricultural focus and as a result it boasts a good ironmonger (Farm & Garden) which was able to supply a handy tube of Araldite for a running repair.


We had hardly got going on Tuesday, and had just prepared the lock at Irthlingborough, when another boat arrived; the first boat going our way since Northampton. We had noted the boat at Wellingborough the day before and they had moored up overnight just above Higham Ferrers bridge. It was great having their help and we travelled all the way to Islip as a pair. It was another glorious sunny day but temperatures were falling.

Negotiating River Nene bends

Woodford Church

Aspen Poplar fluttering in the breeze

Denford Church

Red Kite

Farm Bridge near Titchmarch

In 2006, because river levels were high, we hit Islip footbridge with the tiller pin. Thinking that Farm Bridge was even lower (with 2.1 m indicated height) we turned around to wait for water levels to fall. It turned out that the Environment Agency had removed the bridge ahead of raising its deck. Today the bridge isn't a problem to navigation - unlike Islip footbridge which still causes problems. Luckily on this trip water levels were low enough not to create any problems.

All Saints Aldwincle
Titchmarch Mill
Wadenhoe Church

Moored up at the Kings Head Wadenhoe

We moored up for the night at our favourite mooring outside the Kings Head at Wadenhoe and had a memorable meal in the bar. What a spot!


We awoke on Monday to find White Mills Marina shrouded in mist but with the rising sun visible it was obvious that the mist wasn't going to last.

Morning mist at White Mills Marina

Typical River Nene view

The very friendly staff at the marina said farewell and we headed towards Wellingborough. It became warm and sunny and we passed numerous dog walkers out for morning exercise as we approached Hardwater Mill.

Hardwater Mill

Doddington Lock
At Woolaston Lock we met a boater who was new to boating and was confused between the boxes that housed the electrical lock-operating equipment and thought that his Environment Agency (EA) navigation key would not fit the lock of the electrical control box. It turned out he was trying to open the switch-gear box.

We stopped at Wellingborough opposite Whitworths and shopped at the large Tesco for essential supplies. There were numerous swans along the embankment. Only a couple of boats were moored up.

Railway bridge at Wellingborough

Negotiating Higham Ferrers bridge

We headed for the EA moorings at Irthlingborough which we, along with many boaters, remember the site as the Rushden and Diamonds football club. When we last visited here 10 years ago the moorings had excellent facilities courtesy of the football club and that included free showers. Now there are no facilities - even the pump out and the water point, which are still in place and not working. The sad demise of the football club obviously had a knock on effect on boating facilitates The moorings were quiet with only one other boat present. A bit different from our last visit when we had to double up with another boat.

Visitor moorings at Irthlingborough 
(ex- Rushden and Diamonds)

We watched the sun set over the nature reserve. Unfortunately, we failed to see any noteworthy wildlife, only the occasional lapwing.

Earls Barton

Today was one of those great boating days when you travel through great countryside under clear blue skies and fluffy white clouds, and for early October it was even warm.

Northampton Marina, Becket's Park

We left Northampton Marina (aka Becket’s Park) about 10:00 in sun. Cruising through the broad stretches near Midsummer Meadow we met a number of rowing crews (double sculls, eights and fours) training. We met the first of only three boats moving upstream when we went through Rush Mills Lock. The broad section by the Northampton Washlands was uncharacteristically shallow as we approached Weston Favell Lock and we collected some weed around the propeller several times. I recall that the last time we entered Weston Favell Lock from upstream we also had difficulty - were engulfed by blanket weed – at least it wasn’t that bad.

Double Scull

Midsummer Meadows

Passing through Billing there were some visitors in touring caravans, and even tents, all enjoying the sunshine. At Clifford Hill Lock a family of around six were all fishing. One of the young boys thought Albert was steam-powered.
Entering the Washlands

Weston Favell Lock

We had a swift lunch at Billing Lock and then had a particularly good cruise to Cogenhoe Lock where there are some well cared for chalets and static caravans.

Cogenhoe Lock (with young helpers)

Whiston Church in afternoon sunshine

Operating Whiston Lock with an audience

Electrically operated guillotine lock

The journey continued to White Mills Lock where we moored up in the new White Mills Lock Marina. It has only been open since April and we got a warm welcome from the managers. It appears to be a well-run enterprise.

White Mills Marina at sunset